COLUMBUS, Ohio – It’s only funny when you win, so one day Brendan Gaunce will be able to laugh about it. He’ll have to because his teammates may be chirping him for a while.
The 23-year-old forward, whose only two goals through his first 103 National Hockey League games were scored off his shin pads, finally scored one with his stick – sort of – as the Vancouver Canucks got bounces and goals and a desperately needed 5-2 win Friday against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Late in the second period of a one-goal game, Gaunce skated off the bench and on to a beautiful, blind backpass from Thomas Vanek. Visor-to-mask with Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, Gaunce had a split-second to pick his spot. Would he go high glove, back behind Bobrovsky, or near-post on the goalie’s stick side? Or might he shoot five-hole, or stickhandle around the netminder?
No, Gaunce would torque his stick so severely attempting a wrist shot that the shaft snapped, de-powering the shot and sending the puck skittering at half-speed towards Bobrovsky, who is Russian and, thus, may never have been thrown a change-up in baseball.
As his stick exploded, Gaunce lost sight of the puck and figured it was still un-propelled, somewhere down at his feet. To his surprise, he discovered it had instead gone in the net, Bobrovsky frozen in place, to make it 3-1 for Vancouver at 14:31 of a four-goal period that ended the Canucks’ 0-4-1 winless streak.
“I put some pressure on my stick to whip it into the net,” Gaunce said. “I didn’t know where it went. Luckily for me, it was kind of one of those ones that just found a way. It caught (the goalie) off-guard and caught me off-guard, but it counted.
“It was a big goal in the game, actually, so guys kind of forgot how I scored. I’m sure tomorrow if we watch video, it will be on there.”
And the guys will be on Gaunce.
We did not describe his goal in detail to make fun of Gaunce, who is due a pile more kind bounces after going 95 games and 115 shots on target without scoring until teammate Erik Gudbranson bounced one in off his leg three weeks ago in San Jose.
We focus on it because Gaunce’s goal perfectly encapsulated a game in which a lot of things that went wrong for the Canucks the last five weeks went right for them against the Blue Jackets.
Gudbranson scored his first of the season and fellow defenceman Alexander Edler, on a carom off Columbus defenceman Markus Nutivaara, scored his second. Jake Virtanen managed his sixth, into an empty net, and winger Sven Baertschi scored on another great Vanek pass for his first goal since missing a month with a broken jaw.
“We got some good bounces,” Gudbranson said. “But the good part about the way that game went is we earned those bounces. We played well for 200 feet. The second period we took over. Our forwards were skating like crazy and they created a lot of room for themselves. Winning is huge. It’s tough losing, tough on the morale.”
The win was the Canucks’ first on the road since November and came after a two-day “reset” that followed a 3-1 loss in Washington where Vancouver’s erratic play – both excellent and awful stretches – epitomized its 2-11-2 descent in the standings since Dec. 5.
Green held a team meeting, then staged a back-to-basics practice in Columbus on Thursday.
“When you’re winning, it feels like you’re not going to lose,” Green said after the win. “And when you’re losing, it feels like you might not win again. That’s one of the parts we talked about before the game: ‘Let’s put one foot in front of the other. It’s a 60-minute process. If we do that we’ll be happy and at the end of the night, we should get the results.’”
Some of the goals were lucky, but the victory was not. The Canucks did play their steadiest game in a long time, reducing unforced errors and opposition scoring chances. Their power play went 2-for-3 and Vancouver goalie Jacob Markstrom stopped 27 of 29 shots and was excellent after allowing Seth Jones’ shot from above the faceoff circle to beat him at 4:33 of the first period.
Baertschi tied it at 1:19 of the second, Gudbranson hammered a one-timer past Bobrovsky at 5:38 and then Gaunce scored a winner that was so bad it was good.
He had been healthy-scratched the previous game by Green and just wanted to contribute in some way.
“When you get scratched, it’s tough on your ego,” Gaunce said. “That shouldn’t happen, but everyone wants to play and help the team win. I just wanted to get back in the lineup and have a positive impact – just do everything I could to help the team win.
“Sometimes you just have to reset and remember that you’ve scored at other levels. It will come with confidence and time. For me, I’ve had a lot of time this year to think about becoming a better player away from the puck. If I do that, goals will come.”